A new documentary chronicles the work of violence interrupters, former gang members dispatched to their old Chicago neighborhoods by an organization called CeaseFire to stop youth violence. NPR talked to Eddie Bocanegra, one of the interventionists featured in The Interrupters and a former participant in the city's violence himself, about the challenges of his work — and of being followed by a film crew while doing it.
Read some excerpts here:
Bocanegra says the key to CeaseFire's work is understanding how growing up in the midst of gang violence influences young people.
Bocanegra works primarily with young men, ranging from their teens to their 30s. He says he's able to intervene in heated situations in large part because of his own credibility in the community.
"It opens up the doors and … other places I wouldn't be able to get into … or the average person wouldn't be able to get into," Bocanegra says. "Because of my past, my background … I know the signs. I can understand the body language. It makes it a lot easier to know what to say, what not to say, who to get involved with the mediation."
Author Alex Kotlowitz produced The Interrupters, and, with filmmaker Steve James, worked closely with Bocanegra and his CeaseFire colleagues in the making of the film.
Bocanegra says it felt weird to be followed around by a film crew while working with young gang members. People would want to know who the filmmakers were and what they were up to.
"I know it's a rather grim landscape," Kotlowitz adds. "But for us, in the end we were inspired by the likes of Eddie. I hope people who watch the film will be inspired, as well."
The documentary is going to be used as part of a two-year campaign extending the idea of what an "interrupter" is to include a wide array of people working on a host of issues, including public health, law enforcement, education, efforts around criminal- and juvenile-justice reform, economic development, reentry programs and job training.
Read more and listen to the story at NPR.
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